(3 / 5)
Before I start this review, I’ll provide a disclaimer: I don’t usually watch romantic films.
It’s not like a badge of pride with me or anything, but it’s just not a plot feature I’m particularly interested in paying to see (and in this case, I didn’t). Still, I also recently saw Before Midnight, the third installment in Richard Linklater’s Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy “course of a relationship” series, and, while I’m not allowed to post my review just yet, I thought it was tremendous.
So, unlike with the gangster/serial killer antics of The Iceman, I don’t feel entirely qualified to critique Stuck in Love, the first film of indie writer and director Josh Boone. As such, I’m approaching this one with an attitude of live and let live. I actually really liked Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower – you see, trying.
The film’s set-up is a pretty standard “dysfunctional family” type deal: We open at Thanksgiving. Dad, Bill (Greg Kinnear), is a successful novelist who spends his evenings peeking through the window of his ex-wife, Erica (Jennifer Connelly) and her new younger model husband.
His sixteen-year old son, Rusty (Nat Wolff), is a hopeless romantic with a passion for Stephen King while his nineteen-year old college-going daughter, Sam (Lily Collins), is cynical and promiscuous and has just had her first novel accepted for publication. As Sam finds herself pursued against her will by classmate Lou (Logan Lerman), who wants to engage her in a real relationship, Rusty finds himself in with a chance with object of his affections, the beautiful but damaged Kate (Liana Liberato).
There’s a beach house and no one ever seems to worry about money. Throw in Kristen Bell as Tricia, Bill’s perky fuck buddy who tries to get him back into the dating game, and all the ingredients are there for a predictable but life-affirming dramedy.
Boone’s script is witty if somewhat predictable and a touch tonally inconsistent. It contains both a wardrobe makeover montage and a scene where a drunk, possibly coked-up teenage girl is almost date raped by a complete stranger. Stuck In Love can’t seem to quite decide whether it wants to be an edgy indie sticking its middle finger up at convention or a Hollywood blockbuster with a definite feelgood factor.
All the characters are well cast: Kinnear has a sort of dry, straight forward charm about him and Connelly, though she receives the least screen time of the primary cast, sells the desperation of a woman who’s been cut out of her daughter’s life.
Wolff makes for a convincing awkward teen without ever being irritating and Collins, daughter of rocker Phil, captures the abrasive intelligence of a young woman who’s soured on romantic love without ever having felt it (she even has the same prominent eyebrows as Connelly). Lerman, meanwhile, makes Lou’s un-reciprocated interest in Sam winning as opposed to creepy due mainly due to his sheer likeability.
As a rumination on moving forward in life, of surrendering yourself to love without becoming its prisoner, Stuck In Love just about works. If its third act wrap-up is a bit neat – conflict between two of our budding couples is resolved through deus ex dead mom while another character receives a pick-me-up from a star cameo the equivalent of Lance Armstrong’s in Dodgeball (albeit one that’s at least been foreshadowed) – the film feels like it has something to say and goes about saying it in an honest and interesting way.
We know the extra space that Bill sets at the table will be filled, but that’s not to say we don’t or shouldn’t care. So, despite being a bit mechanical and never quite laugh-out-loud funny, for being a romcom-dram-thing, I genuinely quite enjoyed Stuck in Love.